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Canada holds on against Slovakia to set up rematch with U.S.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Now, the rematch.

Canada opened a three-goal lead and held on for a 3-2 victory over Slovakia in the Olympic men's hockey semifinals Friday night, earning a second chance against the United States in the gold-medal game Sunday.

The unbeaten Americans routed Finland, 6-1, earlier Friday but must beat favored Canada for a second time in eight days to win their first Olympic gold since the Miracle on Ice in 1980.

Patrick Marleau, Brenden Morrow and Ryan Getzlaf scored in the opening 24 minutes to give Canada a 3-0 lead before Slovakia, an Olympic semifinalist for the first time, created a tense finish. Lubomir Visnovsky scored at 11:35 of the third and Michal Handzus made it 3-2 at 15:07.

The Canadians played the game they needed to play to get to the game they had to play. For Canada, the thought of not winning a gold medal in its national sport at home was unthinkable. Not getting a chance to go for that gold because of a tournament-derailing 5-3 loss to the rival United States and its supposedly inferior team last Sunday was unfathomable.

Canada beat the U.S., 5-2, in Salt Lake City for the gold in 2002, but that game lacked the buzz this one will have. Then, the U.S. hadn't already beaten Canada, and this Canadian team was hyped as the best since NHL players began appearing in the Olympics in 1998.- AP

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